Ciarán Murphy: Who are these lunatics who want to play into the wind in the first half?

The bulk of the captain’s work in Gaelic games involves the toss so don’t overthink it

I haven’t captained too many teams in my time – in fact, between our club under-21 side, and a short spell with the team I’m playing for now in Dublin, the gap had been about 17 years or so.

The job hadn’t changed much in the intervening years. Then, as now, the majority of a captain’s work in Gaelic games is done at the coin toss. The role doesn’t ask for a whole lot more than that. But watching the national football leagues unfold over the last two weeks, it has struck me that it’s a part of the job that many captains must still be having difficulty with.

Because there are still teams out there manfully choosing to play into the breeze in the first half of these games. I was never in any doubt that if we won the toss, we were going to play with the wind. And for all the discussions with team-mates and coaches and managers down through the years, I’ve never heard anything that would change my mind on that.

The game has obviously evolved, and with it the relative importance of the wind. At intercounty level, there’s no such thing as what used to be called a ‘three- or four-point wind’. The only time the wind has a noticeable impact on an intercounty game these days is when it’s really blowing a gale – as it has done for the last two weekends.


In those circumstances, or in regular club games where it can still make a difference, playing with the wind in the first half is a vote of confidence in your own forward-line. If you’ve got forwards who can score, you run up a tally and see if the other crowd have the firepower to rein you in.

It’s a little like a one-day international in cricket. You set your opponents a target, and then you trust your bowlers and your fielders to defend that lead.

Kerry have twice in their first two games effectively ‘declared’ at half-time – they’ve added just one point to their total after the break against Kildare and against Dublin, and it’s been enough for three points out of four in Division One.

Galway are joint top of Division Two having held Meath completely scoreless in the first half of their game in Pearse Stadium first day out, and were more than capable of holding off a Down comeback last Saturday evening having burst out to a 1-7 to 0-2 half-time lead, again with the aid of the breeze for the first 35 minutes in Newry.

It should come as no surprise that Galway, in particular, are well capable of playing in these conditions, given Pearse Stadium’s seemingly unassailable position as the windiest intercounty venue in the country.

He did it in Newry for two gigantic bombs from outside the 45, but how many times have we seen Paul Conroy loft a ball up on an Atlantic zephyr in Salthill, see it soar into the clouds at midfield, pop off to the shops for a few bits, and resume his place at midfield in plenty of time to watch the ball sailing over the bar, over the terrace and out onto the prom?

In fact, there's a corner of Pearse stadium, beside the Salthill/Knocknacarra clubhouse, to your left if you were sitting in the covered stand, where I saw Paddy Small kick a point from in a league game against Galway four years ago, a spot of real estate where I toiled myself for many days.

From where Small kicked it into the prevailing Atlantic gale that day, it wasn’t just a ‘challenging kick’ – it’s more like a two-day hike back to the scoring zone. Usually if you do manage to get turned and head for goal from that corner, withstanding the ‘big soft buffetings’ (to borrow Heaney’s phrase from the other side of Galway Bay) to remain upright is enough of an achievement, never mind swinging a point.

Well-meaning lunatics will, of course, hold the opposing view, that you should play into the breeze in the first half. They would have you believe that it takes teams time to settle into a game, that rather than waste the advantage feeling your way into proceedings that you’ll be well warmed up by the time the second half comes around. Maybe you’re convinced you’re a team that starts slowly, and that you should factor that in.

None of that amounts to a hill of beans when put against the opportunity to give your forwards the chance to kick a few scores, build up a lead and give your defenders something to cling on to.

Unlike in cricket, the coin toss isn’t mic’ed up, so we can’t be sure which captain made what decision, but if I had my way we’d all be made perfectly aware of who’s still out there over-thinking all this.

And anyway, after all that . . . the pessimist in me never rules out the possibility of the wind changing direction at half-time.